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Five Reasons To Love Short Stories

After years in the literary wilderness, short stories are making a comeback. In the days when traditional publishing was the norm, publishers usually baulked at publishing short stories unless you were a famous author, as they perceived them as being difficult to sell.

But in these days of digital publishing and indie authors, short stories are thriving – either sold individually or in anthologies. 

I love reading and writing short stories, and recently won a highly commended prize for my short story The Perfect Job in the Stringybark Stories Malicious Mysteries Awards.  I couldn’t resist entering that competition, as I love writing dark fiction – the more malicious, the better.

If you’re not already hooked, here are five reasons to love short stories.

They’re…ahem…short

Meaning they’re excellent for busy readers, who want something quick to read while waiting for the potatoes to boil, or the kids to finish soccer training.  Plus there are times when you don’t feel like expending the time and energy to read a novel, and a short story fits the bill perfectly.

I often read an anthology of short stories as a ‘palate cleanser’ in between novels. Or I’ll read a short story if I only have a few minutes spare.

Short encompasses wide parameters when it comes to stories. Flash fiction is usually under 1000 words and can even be as low as 100 words. As an author, your storytelling skills are tested writing a 100 word story. 

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway, the master of succinct writing, won a bet by writing a six word short story.

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

Amazing how poignancy can be conveyed in so few words.

The maximum length of a short story is deemed to be 7500 words, although some go up to 10 000 words. A story of this length is long enough to immerse you in its world and characters but still able to be read in one sitting.

They’re just as satisfying as novels

A well-written short story provides you with all the ingredients of a good novel – an overriding theme, authentic characters and an engrossing plot with tension and resolution.  So you have the satisfaction of a story that immerses you in another world, moves you in some way and stays with you afterwards. All in just a few thousand words.

The proof is the number of short stories that have been made into movies – Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Dead by James Joyce, The Minority Report by Phillip K. Dick, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber and The Birds by Daphne du Maurier are just some examples.

They leave you wanting more.

Like finishing off the tub of salted caramel/pecan ice-cream in your freezer. You know that’s all there is, but it doesn’t stop you wanting more.

Because of its brevity a short story can only involve certain events and characters in a specific time frame. Backstory and description are limited and much is hinted at or implied about the characters and their world.

But a good short story will make you feel as if you want to keep on reading; you want to know more about the characters and what happens to them. When a reader tells me that my short story would make a good novel, I take it as a compliment. It means there is depth and breadth to the story; that it has a life of its own that transcends its time and place and continues after its ending.

Many famous novels started their lives as short stories, including Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffry Eugenides, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

You get quantity and variety.

In an anthology of short stories, whether by one author or several, you get a number of stories for the same price or less than you would pay for a novel. So a lot of bang for your buck.

And you don’t have to start at the beginning. You can do what I do and read them out of order.  Yeah, I know, I’m a rebel at heart.

You can sample different authors.

Like getting a taste of all the cheeses from the friendly dairy demonstrator at the supermarket. 

Reading a short story by an author you don’t know is a good way of getting to know their writing style and genre before investing money in one of their novels. And reading multi-author anthologies will undoubtedly introduce you to a lot of authors you haven’t heard of and who may become your favourites. I’ve discovered many authors through short stories, particularly crime anthologies such as the Akashic Noir series.   

Bonus reason: why authors love writing short stories.

Actually, there are many reasons. Besides the obvious fact that they are shorter than novels and take less time to write, writing short stories is an effective way to learn the basics of good writing – how to be concise (every word has to earn its keep), how to create a convincing plot and memorable characters, without the blood, sweat and tears of an entire novel.

Short stories also enable authors to experiment with different genres and styles of writing.  In my free anthology of short stories, Comedy Shorts, there are two stories with a fantasy element. I’d always wanted to try incorporating some fantasy in my writing and those two stories, A Peaceful Death, about a man who is commissioned to do a job for the Angel of Death, and The Muse, about an author who meets her muse, were a great way to dip my toe in the water and have some fun.

And speaking of dipping, if you’re looking for some short stories to dip into, Stringybark Stories has just published all 27 winning entries of the Malicious Mysteries competition in an anthology called Red Gold, available as an e-book or in print. 

I highly recommend it, with complete impartiality, as an excellent read.

Are you a fan of short stories? Do you have any recommendations? I’d love you to join the conversation in the comments box below.

About the Author Robin Storey

Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.

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